This article is in Reverse Chronological order, so read it from the bottom up :) (well, just the sections, not word by word.)
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is a pretty large pic, so I’d say if you don’t want to read through, you could instead stare at the poetic beauty of the image instead. (I finally figured out how to link it to the original larger sized image! WordPress – you’ve dumbed down your tools from the last time I used them.)
N: The Actual Hike
(A) A Written Account
Having arrived in Phoenix on Friday, and after an evening meeting people I know, I crashed at a friends place and slept around 11:30pm announcing to my friend that I would need to wake up by 4am to keep things on track
Day 1 – Saturday
- Getting there, Breakfast and Shuttle to trailhead:
I managed to wake up around 4:30 am. Started driving from Tempe at 5:15 am. Took a rest and refueling stop near Flagstaff. Google maps wasted time as always!! – I was looking for a subway which was supposed to be 0.1 miles away – except on the other side of the highway through a service road – instead Google maps decides to take me on a 5 mile joy ride and brings me back to the same place. Argh!! I stopped to find the Subway would open only at 9am, bought a cookie and a coffee, and started back.
I ended up reaching the park entrance around 9am, realizing I was already behind schedule by some. From there, I headed to the Bright Angel Lodge and checked in for the Phantom Ranch reservations (find out why I am actually thankful for this system being in place.) and drove to the Visitor Center, which is where I was planning on parking and taking a shuttle to the trailhead and bought couple of ‘egg and cheese burritos’ (yay! for no meat options) from the Bicycle renting store right next to the Visitor Center – one for breakfast and one for lunch. My original plan had involved packing a 6″ sub for lunch, and to be honest this was better even if pricier. While waiting for the Orange shuttle which takes you to the South Kaibab trailhead, I was wolfing down the burrito so that I was not wasting time. The driver as she is driving to a stop, tells me over speaker that no food is allowed inside to which I nod to let her know I know of the shuttle rules. I put the unfinished burrito in my pack (well, re-wrapping it of course.) and don’t have time to refill my water – I decide to chance it at the South Kaibab trailhead.
- Starting from the trailhead and my first oops moment:
I reached the S. Kaibab trailhead around 10am – to my horror there was no water from the tap – I was extremely annoyed for not having filled it earlier and was wondering if I should be stupid and not fill up (well, see the S.Kaibab trail has no water spigots along the way, and no stream that I know of either, so this would have been really dumb.) or go back to a place that had water and fill up and come back – putting me further back on the schedule. I would probably have only done the latter, but thankfully the tap on the back of the structure worked and I breathed a sigh of relief and refill my bottles and hydration pack. I also wolfed down the remaining burrito. I started at the trailhead at around 10:20 am. (got the time thanks to the memory of the tracker, and me doing several screenshots of my phone along the way to get time markers.) There was some ice and snow at the trailhead but there were dry patches – so I decided not to wear my crampons and use my hiking poles instead. With a heavy pack ( I would put it at around 30 pounds ) I might need the hiking poles for traction even on the way down. I have hardly taken 5 steps from the trailhead when I slip – I have a oh fuck moment and try to steady myself with the poles, but no use – I slide and I fall on my butt. That was scary – last thing you want is to fall to your death even before you have begun your hike. I try getting up and slip again – I finally managed to get up dust myself up and decided that I’d still not use the crampons , but would watch the trail and if sections were icy – I’d put them on. Thankfully, nobody was around to see me fall. :P That would have been extremely embarrassing. Everything from ‘Watch yourself there.’ to ‘You new to hiking ?’ to ‘What you’re doing Rim-Rim-Rim and you fall at the trailhead ? Do us all a favor and stay indoors will you ?’ :) Of course people are much nicer on trails – but you imagine the worst anyway.
- The hike down:
The trail down was quite sunny and I took several breaks and sipped water, electrolytes and ate cliff bars and trail mix from time to time as well. (You don’t need much in the form of nourishment when you climb down, but your body can only absorb nutrients so fast – so you’re better off eating at regular intervals anyway.) Once I descended far enough and got the view of the river in the distance the view was simply spectacular – after a while you see the trail heading all the way to the river . At one view point, a lady even pointed out some rafters in the river – the view was truly spectacular. After which she slyly asked me if she had already asked me to take her photo for her, at which point I was handed her phone and had to play photographer. The favor wasn’t returned, and I didn’t ask. As I neared the tunnel near the Black Bridge I was really excited. I had seen only photos of the place and it was magnificent to see it in person – from the black bridge you can also see the silver bridge and if not for the ultra-bright sun , I should have got some good photos . From there to Phantom Ranch was a short hike. I did not stop by the beach as I knew I was pressed for time. The luxuries of doing the trail at a slower pace is you can actually stop at the beach, take a dip …etc.
- Phantom Ranch and onward:
I picked up my sack lunch , was told there would be no water at Cottonwood Campground and so filled up all my bottles to the brim. Here’s something interesting – when I told the attendant behind the desk that I had a sack lunch reservation, she did not ask for any paper to be produced to that effect or even ask my name. While this should probably please you that people would not be dishonest at this neck of the woods, there is a reason this is bad. In case there was an emergency later in the hike, and the rangers asked Phantom Ranch whether or not definitively I had been there to pick up my lunch, they couldn’t answer that. I wanted to ask them if they’d heat my burrito, but decided I could have it cold anyway. This was such a great idea to bring as lunch! I reached Phantom Ranch around 2:30 pm and left around 3:00 pm. Cottonwood is a good 8 miles from phantom ranch with 1500ft of elevation gain. Even at 2mph with the pack, I was going to finish at 7pm – which is kinda bad – because the sun sets at 5:30pm. By mile 6 I was tired. With two more miles to go and the sun down, I was feeling tired and weary. I was hoping for the next several minutes that the camp ground would magically appear soon, but that was obviously not to be. The last half mile to the campground was mentally hard. Its’s kind of the point when the pleasure of such a wonderful hike is beaten by the pain, and you just wish someone would magically carry you to the campground and pitch your tent for you.
- Cottonwood Campground, Rats!
I reached the Ribbon falls and Cottonwood intersection at about 6pm and reached cottonwood at around 8pm I think. To make matters worse – on reaching the campground it seemed like the entrance was cordoned off – I can’t tell you how you feel after a long hike to think the campsite might not be open ! And that when the Rangers had issued you a permit!! Not having been there before, and not having the benefit of daylight, I was not sure what to do. (Which is why I am always anxious to reach camp before sun down.) To make matters worse still , there was no one else in the campground I could see or hear! I finally decided to go on the left past the barricade anyway and stumbled upon the campground. Such a relief! There was a couple there doing dishes and I asked them if they knew how to identify the site you are supposed to camp in and they told me that except them there was only one other site that was occupied and I could pick any one of the 10 sites. I picked site 8 and started by putting all my food in the provided ammo box. While I was stowing away the food in the ammo box, I could already hear mice near the campsite. So I hurriedly put everything in one of the ammo boxes which had been placed upside down and with the lid on top of it. After this, I went about pitching my tent and getting my sleeping pad and bag in place. I was making a mental note of the things I would have to do. (Which is hard btw when you’re tired.)
I decided I would put my dirty clothes in a garbage bag and leave that in the other ammo box, and also, change before going to bed – because I do not like sleeping in the same clothes I hiked in. (I’m sure no one does.) After finishing with the tent, I was in for a nasty surprise when I opened the second ammo box – mind you this was not placed upside down, and had the lid on. Inside it there was what seemed to be a zip-lock bag with food left behind God knows when and at least one dead mouse. I rushed the box to another campsite, and got an empty one from there instead. Last thing you want is some disease! Next I proceed to use the alcoholic hand sanitizer before eating something for dinner. In the sack lunch that I had picked up at Phantom ranch, I had Oreos and a pack of peanuts – which was about all I could manage to eat. I had enough Cliff bars – at least 2 and about half a ziplock bag’s worth of trail mix while walking on the trail. This was in addition to the two burritos I had had for breakfast and lunch – so I was not that hungry, and I was tired to eat something – especially, dry and cold.
- Rats! Not enough sleep
I then put some stuff including my water bottles, first aid kit …etc in the second ammo box, and hung my pack from the poles that were provided. I am generally told the best way to hand your pack is to leave all the zips open and hang it upside down. I did leave the zips open, but I was afraid of rains and a soaked bag, so I pulled the cover on top of it and this made it impossible to hang it upside down. So, instead I just hung it the way gravity would want the bag :) After this, I went to bed. I should mention that while I was having my food, the mice were running dangerously close to the tents repeatedly – but I was away from the tent, and thought they were just looking for food. Unfortunately, the mice got bolder as the night went by – they started running around my tent – which I was ok with because, come on , you are camping in the backcountry – you are going to have critters come near you. As long as there is no food in your tent, and nothing aromatic, both of which I did not have – animals generally leave you alone. Not these mice – after a while they were running ON my tent between the tent and the rainfly!! This was extremely annoying because the tent is transparent on the top, and I open my eyes to see a mice sitting right on top of my tent. I shooed them away a few times, but they seemed anything but scared. By around 2 am, I was super pissed – if I had a way of killing them, believe me, I would have! I got out of my tent, in an attempt to try throwing a rock or something on them to scare them away, but they hid cleverly in the bushes and ran really fast near my tent – with it getting cold outside, I can’t tell you how much of a wrench this throws into plans – when you have had a hard days hike, you really want a good nights sleep especially if the next day involves an even harder hike, and you need to stick to a timetable. I decided to go back to sleep because the original plans had been to wake up no matter what at 4 am and start hiking by at least 5 am. Here I was at 3 am not yet catching a wink of sleep, and I got less than 5 hours sleep the previous night. I finally went to sleep – and several times, the mice would again climb on my tent and run around, but I stopped bothering about it as there was nothing I could do about it, and just slept anyway. There were two mice that I could count – one small and the other sizably larger. In all the ruckus that involved me getting up and back into my tent, I managed to lose my regular prescription glasses. I recognized the fact the next morning, and tried looking for it but to no avail. Thankfully I had my sunglasses – so I wouldn’t be blind during the day. (Ok, I can still see without glasses pretty well, but I need to be close to boards and stuff before I can read them – not too much but just enough to annoy you.)
Day 2 Sunday
- Lack of Sleep and wrench in plans:
I finally woke up at 7am, and was wondering if I should even hike up all the way to the North Rim. These are tough decisions – I would be starting 3 hours behind my schedule, and my schedule was already planned so tight that there was no room to accommodate such delays. I had to be at the Phantom ranch before 6:30pm for dinner, and regardless of how I did the hike, I couldn’t start around 8am and finish by 6:30pm. It was a 14 mile hike with more than 5000ft ascent and descent followed by another 8 miles with 1500ft descent. I wouldn’t be carrying my tent and sleeping bag/pad on the hike up and down the North Rim, but would have to carry them out from Cottonwood to Phantom ranch anyway. And that is 8 miles. With a heavy pack, I estimated that alone would take me 3+ hours. I finally did some calculations – which were aggressive, but doable I thought and the new plan was I hike up North Rim, and have a turn around time, and if I don’t make it to the top by then, I turn around by this time to make the dinner on time at the Phantom Ranch, because if you miss dinner time, you don’t get allowed inside after that. This time was 12:30.So I had 4 1/2 hours to hike up the North Kaibab Trail, 3 hours to hike down and then another 3 hours to Phantom Ranch – yes I know all tight, and quite honestly impractical.
- Hike up North Kaibab
The hike up North Kaibab was pretty nice – the views were even more stunning, and there were only some sections which had direct bright sunlight. I started out by eating some muesli – dry that I had packed for breakfast, After that I had some energy chews every so often, and one cliff bar over a couple of breaks. Since I wasn’t carrying some of the heavier items, I think I was climbing about 8-10 pounds lighter – but still about 15-20 pounds on my shoulders. There was to be no water on the North Rim, so I was essentially carrying water for both up and down – which sucks – but hey that’s how it is. I was climbing at a good pace till about the last mile and a half. It’s always the last mile and a half, I tell you. This is also the really steep section – from Supai Tunnel to the North Rim is as much elevation as from Cottonwood to Supai Tunnel. I conveniently chose to not look at this data before climbing. (like I always do – Hello SF first half marathon!!) It was now getting evident that I would not be able to make the top by 12:30. After some mulling over things, I decided I was going to continue on because I had come so close – I was wrong about the ‘so close’ part. I started noticing snow and ice on the trail, but still did not wear crampons. On the way up, you generally have better traction. I did use my poles to test the patch of land I was going to step on, and always kept to the inside of the trail. (North Kaibab has some sections where the falls are 1000+ feet if you slip off the trail – and then you basically plummet to death unless you’re really lucky.) Powdery snow is pretty easy to walk on. It’s the solidified ice that’s a killer. I met a nice guy walking down when I was climbing who was working at the North Rim for the last 6 weeks I think, and wanted to get a view of the inner canyon. He told me there would be no water either at Supai Tunnel or the North Rim – which I knew, but now knew to be confirmed and true. I wasn’t too worried about the water situation except it would add to the time, and time was what I was short on. I had a couple of filters at hand, and could have purified water off some stream if I ran out. Unlike the S Kaibab, on the N Kaibab, a small detour from a few points should give you access to water.
- Getting to the North Kaibab trailhead
After a lot of pushing and panting, I finally reached the rim an hour late – at 1:30 pm and was a little tired from all the climbing. There were a couple of couples who egged me to go on and said the trailhead wasn’t that far away – I need to be thankful to them – all the while I was thinking of turning back, not because of the physical challenge, but because of the extra time it was taking, and how I had absolutely no buffer. I finally decided, even if I missed dinner, it would be ok, but a chance to get on top of the North Rim might not come again, and I would have to climb the whole way to get to the top :) With this in mind, I just went up the North Rim. As confirmed by the guy that I met on the way, there was no water at the North Rim trailhead. There were directions to the back-country office where there would be water, but again, thanks to time constraints I did not want to go there. I stopped for lunch – had the apple and a bagel with cream cheese that could only be scooped out by the bagel hardened by the cold. While having food, a Swedish family of 3 approached me and asked me if I had hiked up – after I gave them details, they were genuinely excited and wanted to know more. We got to talking generally about things. At this point, I took the chance to ask them if they had any water – I would normally not have asked someone for water – but this was better than running out later – so I asked anyway. They were only glad to help me out, and gave me two 500ml bottles – which served quite nicely. They also offered to drive me around the North Rim saying that it was beautiful and something I should see. I had to politely decline because I was already running behind schedule. They seemed like a genuinely nice family – and here’s a shout out to them for helping me with my water situation. I would have loved to have chatted for a little longer – especially since the topic of – so do you stay in the US or do you plan to go back to India came up, but time was ticking away, and I had to chow down the damn hard bagel as well.
- Hike down North Kaibab:
I started the hike down at around 2pm after wolfing down my lunch. On the way down, I decided I was going to use the crampons because I did not want to chance slipping on the way down. I strapped on the crampons on my boots, and set out on the hike down. The crampons worked really really well. They had amazing grip on snow and even on ice – I was truly impressed. They were so good that in some steep sections, I was literally running down snow and ice. They were also ok on mud – i.e., they did not hurt my foot or cause loss of traction or any such thing. However, on slick rock, they were just plain slippery, and after the initial stretch where there was a lot of snow, I decided to take them off for the one off small section that would have snow/ice on them. My pace going down was pretty good. I was not weighed by the bag, and my legs still felt reasonably fresh. Again, in some sections, I was slow jogging down. I reached Phantom Ranch at around 5pm. I knew coming in that there was no way I was going to make the remaining 8 miles in a hour and a half – That would be insane. So, I came to terms with the fact that I would most likely not get dinner, and after packing all of my stuff including the tent, the sleeping bag and pad back into my pack, I sat down and took time to eat a big chunk of trail mix from my bag. I would need to energy to make it to Phantom Ranch, and they might not have my dinner very likely.
- Hike to Phantom Ranch: (Read My Struggle to somehow get to Phantom Ranch)
I started out on the hike at a good pace because I wanted to cover as much as I could before the sun set. Sun set was happening around 5:30m, and there was twilight till about 6pm, after which the moon took over. I did not stop till sunset, and covered as much distance as possible even though the heavy pack on my back was begging me to take a break. I finally did take a break after all sunlight had gone away, and wolfed down a cliff bar. I took plenty of pictured descending down South Kaibab, and even took a few pictured in the initial section of the ascent of the North Kaibab. However, on the way down, I don’t think I stopped to take any more pictured except maybe one or two. Also, on the way to Phantom Ranch I would be surprised if I found a picture I took.
- Mile – Mile-and a Half:
The last 1 1/2 miles were crazy – I think my brain had lost all control over my legs, and just to get my legs to keep moving was a challenge – add to this the weariness of 2 days worth of hiking and the fact that by now the pack was anything but nice and light on my shoulder, and I was beginning to grimace. I made it through one more mile with some grit and determination. The last 1/2 mile was absolutely horrible – I will have to look at my data from the tracker, but on level ground I must not have been moving more than 1 mile an hour. I was trying to keep my mind distracted from the situation by trying to count to 60 and reset and repeat – something I do to roughly measure distance while running. After a while I realized I had no idea where I was on the count, or how many sets of 60 I had counted. After trying to restart the process a couple more times, and my mind wandering away, I decided to just put one foot in front of the other. At some point, my legs were literally collapsing with my knee having no control over them!
- Reaching Phantom Ranch!! a Relief
I finally reached Phantom Ranch at 8:30 pm. I went up to the desk to see if I could ask them for my dorm reservation first and then maybe beg them for some left over food. If that failed, ask them if I could get something hot to eat. While all of this was playing on my mind – the nice guy behind the counter asks me if I was Karthik – I say yes, and he says – guessed as much. I guess I must have been the only guest who had missed dinner and not checked in yet. He then tells me in words that sound like music to my ears – ‘I’ve got your food warming back there – if you want to go freshen up in your dorm and come back, I’ll make sure it’s ready’ – I can’t tell you the feeling I had then – the relief combined with the joy – I could have cried. I repeatedly thanked him profusely, and told him I’d be back in 5 minutes. I went to the dorm wincing in pain each step seeming like a punishment for attempting to do this in one day. I don’t think I have ever been so tired and physically fatigued – not after biking, not after running any of my half marathons. But I guess 22 miles and 5000ft in one day after having hiked 15+ the previous day with a pack is anything but easy. (a few more miles, and it would have been full marathon with a backpack :) You should try it sometime :) )
- When you’re completely out of energy:
After I got to the dorm, I changed into something, and washed my face and hands. I had every desired to have a bath before having food and sleeping, but absolutely no energy left to do just that. I also made a note that I should find my cash to tip the incredible guy at the Phantom Ranch, but again, I could not muster the energy to look for it in my pack. Among other things I did not have the energy to do – eat a Tylenol/Advil, find my money so I could send a postcard and possibly buy some souvenir, apply pain balm to my sore muscles and get the contents of my pack in order.
The Veggie chili tasted like heaven – I could barely prop up myself on the chair, with my head wanting to rest on the table, but the food was so good and so energizing. I would have liked a beer or something to get a good night’s sleep, but again, did not have the energy to find the money and definitely did not have the energy to go back and get it from the dorm. At this point, if I asked him for a tab on top of everything he’’d done for me, I think he would have given me the deathliest of death glares. While I was having my dinner feeling half dead, I notice the rest of the folks are having a gala time – they’re either playing board games with their family, or having a merry time over discussions. Outside, there are groups of people playing the guitar and singing songs. Crap! Here I am barely able to sit up in my chair. That’s what you get for over-aggressive planning.
So I walk back to the dorm, and I have an upper bunk. Annoying thing is, you cannot find contents from your pack, or repack sitting on top of the upper bunk – so I just said ‘fuck it’ – (hear it in a Lewis CK voice) and threw my pack under the lower bunk and just went up and slept. Every muscle in my body was aching. My legs especially, but even my shoulders and my back. It might seem like I am over exaggerating, but once I got in bed, I did not have the energy to even turn/flop around – which I do several times during a night’s sleep. So I basically slept the same way you would sleep inside a mummy sleeping bag. I did get a wonderful night’s sleep though – there were some guys snoring away to glory – but I couldn’t have cared less. I slept like a baby. I think I went to sleep around 10pm, but my alarm woke me up at 4:30 am.
Oh, btw here’s a tip for hiking long distances – don’t wear cotton inners! My base layers were the quick dry material, but not my inners. They chafe like crazy! and I wasn’t carrying any vaseline or cold cream with me. I finally had to resort to using my lip balm (spread onto my fingers first) to kind of treat the chafing.
Day 3 –Monday
- Early Breakfast:
I was refreshed enough where I did feel like I could hike today. Last night I had had serious doubts about that and was thinking in the worst case, I’ll beg Phantom Ranch for a dorm for another day. Sure, it would throw a wrench in my Zion plans, but if you can’t walk, then you better not try going up the Canyon with a heavy backpack. I did feel however like I wanted more rest. I managed to have a bath, and rest for a while before heading to the Ranch for the early breakfast at 5:30am. They had Bacon (which was of no use to me), scrambled eggs, pancakes, coffee, orange juice and some canned peach. I took a couple of pancakes, and copious amounts of the scrambled eggs. I also had one half peach, and gulped down the orange juice, and then had some coffee to finish it off. I met a couple of German guys – one of whom lives in the US and his friend who was visiting from Germany and we got to talking about things in general. The amazing thing about hiking is, once you get past the first conversation, people talk to you like they are your buddies, and no one judges you. There was this other family of 3 who were planning on hiking the rim-rim-rim as well, but they were doing it over 5 days and 4 nights. They had stayed at the Phantom Ranch on day 1, and were to stay at cottonwood on day 2 and day 3 and back to Phantom Ranch on day 4 before heading up. That’s probably the sensible thing to do. They were excited to learn that I had made it back to Phantom Ranch in 2 days and had questions about the condition of the trails, water availability …etc. I wished them luck on their hike,and made it back to Phantom Ranch. I wanted to get some more rest before heading back the Bright Angel trail today. So, while I didn’t catch any more sleep, I did manage to rest for maybe an hour longer. Finally, at around 7:30am, I decided, I better get packed and think about leaving soon. Once I started packing and got things going, I was feeling less weary and more confident of being able to do the hike.I met another hiker in the dorm with whom I struck up a conversation – and he tells me that he has had issues with mice before as well, and he carries flares that he leaves near his tent, and that keeps them away generally. Maybe I’ll try it the next time I hike in country inhabited by mice.
- Hike up the Bright Angel Trail:
Once I started hiking up, I was not feeling very tired initially. I decided I would go as far as I can with as little break as possible, and then take a break in an attempt to try and reach the trailhead on top quickly. After all, the plans involved hiking out and then followed by a 4 1/2 drive to Zion where I was to camp for the night. I had a campground reserved and was confident of driving – but again, didn’t want to driver too long after Sunset. (having lost my clear glasses.)
- Indian Garden Campground – Rest and Lunch
I took my first break near the Indian garden campground, and thought I’d eat a cliff bar before heading up. I reached the Indian Garden somewhere between 10am and 12pm – (thanks to the Austin/Phoenix time zone, that’s as far as I can narrow it down) I met a nice gentleman from Alaska here, who was hiking the backcountry trails – what do you expect of Alaskans ? Once I told him I was doing the R-R-R, he informs me that he did that last week when it was snowing! and he couldn’t see the trail. Whoa! He must be hard-core. I quickly proceed to ask him the cliched question of if he’s done Denali – to which he replies he’s not that hardcore. :) I guess I’m never doing Denali ever. Maybe just Mt. Whitney. Surprisingly, he hadn’t hiked in California either. He was saying his next plan was the JMT – if I had met him at another point along the way, I would have taken his contact, although he was clearly a much better hiker in terms of experience and ability – I was researching JMT on my own, and it wouldn’t hurt to do it with someone better :) But he was too fast for me on the way up, and I never saw him after that really – up until then I was telling myself I was only slow because of my pack. His pack was way heavier just by looking at it’s size – so clearly he was a better hiker. We did get to talking on the mice situation and he tells me, he slept under a tarp and there were mice running ON him.!!The rest of the conversation concerning how he dealt with the situation is not suitable for a written blog, but I know I don’t have the skills required to deal with them in the same way. ;) I told him about Big Bend, and how it is worthwhile going there for some hikes as well.
There was another couple whom I had passed on my way to the Indian Garden campground – a family of 4, that had then passed me, that were also stopped and taking a break. The lady in the group had offered to take a pic of me – and I’m glad she offered. I think that’s about the only pictures I have of myself on the trail.
- Three mile and 1 1/2 mile rest houses:
The climb up from Indian Garden was pretty eventless except for the stunning views looking back. The family of 4 passed me once or twice, with me passing them once or twice. By this time we were saying “Hello again” to each other. At the 3 mile pesthouse, I left my backpack very close to the trail and went to use the restroom. When I came back, the family told me they had to shoo away a squirrel that was curious about my pack. We finally got talking and I told them about my trip so far. They were being sensible and had just come down to the Phantom Ranch and then stayed there a night, and were heading back up. To reward themselves, they were then heading to Scottsdale in Arizona – which during good weather is a wonderful place to be vacationing in. I guess with everyone, once they heard of my itinerary there was newfound respect in their voices – not something I was consciously going for – but when you get asked about your hike, you tell them straight. They were of course climbing with lighter daypacks. ;) The general courtesy I try and follow is to let faster hikers through, so I was looking at them multiple times as they got close to me. After a while of passing each other, they just tell me to climb at my pace, and they would just hang back.
I must also mention before I forget that while I was not tired, the effects of the last night’s hikes were telling in my leg muscles. They were visibly beaten and wanted more rest. So, while I wanted to go faster and had the energy to, my legs wouldn’t let me. Including the breaks, I think I took about 7 1/2 hours to complete and get to the top.
- Shuttle back to visitor center, refreshments and headed to Zion
I stopped a while at the Bright Angel trailhead and took in the magnificent beauty, while removing my pack and letting my shoulders rest. For some reason one of the RV’s seemed like an Ice Cream truck, and through pain I walked all the way up to it, only to have to return back. The wait for the Shuttle to take us back to the Visitor center was not long, and the shuttle came by quickly and whisked us away. At this point, I was smelling like a skunk, and my whole body was weary – not to the extent of exhaustion like the previous day, but a more gentle weariness all around. I hit the visitor center, bought some magnets and the like, to mark the visit. Then I head to the same awesome Bike shop where I bought the Burritos on day 1. I got the exact same burrito and also a bowl of Tomato Bisque soup – which tasted quite wonderful after the hike. Sure I was over-eating :) but hey, I must have burnt calories in the 4 digits. It was a 11 mile ~5000ft climb after all. My car was thankfully parked right next to the visitor center, and after wolfing down the food, I set out for Zion. There is a gas station inside the Grand Canyon – I did refuel there. After the 5:30pm/6pm time, the sun had set and I didn’t get to see the beautiful place that highway 89 is till I returned from Bryce 2 days later. The Page area, Arizona/Utah border is among the most scenic places I have ever seen in my life – including the Grand Canyon.
After having done the hike, here are the things I am happy about – I did complete the whole distance and did not wimp out. I did it in pretty reasonable time considering for the most part I was carrying a 30 pound backpack. After I came back out, I had not broken toe nails or got any blisters. The chafing is something I will have to remember in the coming long hikes.
Here’s the bad – I didn’t get to spend much time by the river or at Phantom Ranch. (something easily fixed if you just go down to the river and back some other time.) I did not get time to explore Ribbon Falls and Roaring Springs. I would have to go up the North Kaibab again if I want to visit these again. I felt I had enough time to get fairly decent photos, although with a point and shoot and a phone, I didn’t have to play around with Aperture/Shutter setting all that much. (My P&S has a manual mode – the reason I even bought it in the first place. :) ) I would also have liked to have stayed the night after the hike up at the Grand Canyon and maybe explored some of the other viewpoints that I have not been to in the past, but I am sure that can always be done in the future.
- I typed most of this account first on my phone and then on my laptop on the flight to SF. The last part of Day 3 was filled in later, but I still had good recollection of the details.
(B) Data from the hike:
N-1 Updates leading up to the Hike:
** Update 2015-11-05 – After keeping fingers crossed for 1 day, (ok, I didn’t actually do it :) ) I finally received the permit by email today :) with directions to attach it to the pack. (I hadn’t found this page on my own – so I’m sharing the link here.) So, looks like I’m all set – permits and reservations wise. Now I just need to pray every day that the weather is not horrible on the 3 days I plan to hike.
** Update 2015-11-03 – So I went ahead and sent 3 different itineraries with different combinations I could think of, last evening. I receive an email this morning saying one of them had been tentatively accepted. Can’t say how overjoyed I am!! Yippee!! They must have realized that I am one persistent SoG and will not relent :) Here’s an excerpt from the email I received:
“At your request we have temporarily reserved a trip for you. However, before we accept a $xx non-refundable payment from you, we want to make sure you understand what you requested. Experience has shown that solo hiking leaves an inadequate safety margin for dealing with problems that might come up, and this can lead to poor decisions, expounded injuries, and even death. Please do not accept this itinerary merely because it is available. Make sure it is what you really want and well within your capability. The Hiker Information Sheet form (available at http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/Hiker_Information_Sheet.pdf) explains some key factors that work together to make hiking within Grand Canyon unusually difficult and potentially dangerous. If this itinerary is not what you want or not within the capability of all group members, consider canceling or making a different request — you can download a request form at: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/permit-request.pdf
If you are highly experienced at Grand Canyon and determined to keep this particular itinerary, a permit can be issued to you. Simply read and complete a Hiker Information Sheet (this is useful in the event of an emergency) and return the form to us with full payment.
Note: The hike from the South Rim to Cottonwood campground is considered to be very strenuous. Not only are you hiking 14 or 17 miles, you are also losing almost 5,000 feet of elevation followed by a gain of 1,500 feet. Please make sure that everyone in your group is capable of completing this hike. If you want this permit, please fill out the Hiker Information Sheet and either fax or mail it back to our office. Thank you!
Sounds like fair warning. It basically says – if you are not fully aware of what you are getting into, and fully prepared, don’t come! Even if you are both aware and prepared, there could still be emergencies, and hiking alone is not a good idea. I fully intend to be fully aware and prepared :) As for the hiking alone, you might fall off a cliff, lightning might strike you – well, yes, and yes, someone cannot help you, but hey, a drunk motorist can run you over too while you are crossing the road. :) Plus, trying to find company for a good hike and making sure your plans overlap is a <profane-word(s)>.
** Update: 2015-11-02 – So, my permit requests to the backcountry campgrounds was denied today. I had requested for Bright Angel campground on 11-21 and 11-22 I believe. With me being flexible to stay in Indian Garden campground on 11-22. Darn it! This will throw a wrench into the plans for sure. I might have to hike rim-river-rim instead on the 22nd and 23rd.
I managed to book a campground in the Mather campgrounds for 11-21-2015. So in case, my attempt to do a walk-in reservation of the campgrounds is denied on 11-21, I’ll at least look around Grand Canyon at a slow pace, and then have a place to sleep for the night. At $18, you can hardly complain. I think the weather might be pretty cold in the rims though. Worst case scenario, will sleep in the car. :)
I’m going to try a few more permutations/combinations of different back-country campgrounds and see if at least one of them goes through. Fingers crossed :/ As a backup, also ring up Phantom Ranch and see if they can put me up for 11-21 as well. (I want to be farther down on 11-21 night, but at this point I cannot be picky.)
** Update: 2015-11-01 – I got a reservation for a dorm slot in Phantom Ranch on 11-22-2015. I also got a breakfast reserved for 11-23-2015 and a sack lunch reserved for 11-21-2015. I am yet to be able to get a Vegetarian dinner for 11-22-2015 – apparently only steak dinners are available! Yikes! I’d much rather get another sack lunch.
I thought after attempting the North Rim hike, I should try and get (a) Good food and (b) Good rest before heading out. So, it made sense not to sleep in a tent.
N-2 Preliminary Plans:
I’ve been wanting to do the Grand Canyon Rim-Rim hike for more than a year now. We had plans to do it from the North Rim to the South Rim in May of 2014, but for some reasons, after all preparations had been made including booking shuttles to get us to the North Rim, and booking the North Kaibab lodge, our plans had to be dropped at the last minute. This was a little sad, because everyone involved in the plan was physically conditioned to be able to do the hike quite comfortably. Getting a group which is physically conditioned and mentally motivated is a big deal. Only a few months later, I moved from Tempe to Austin, and now the Grand Canyon is not as accessible as it once was. :/
However, I do get a week off during thanksgiving, and after some other plans fell through, I decided I wanted to do the Rim-Rim. Of course, the problem with doing it in November is that the North Rim is closed, and so is the North Kaibab lodge. So logistically, you cannot take a shuttle to the North Rim, nor stay at the lodge. You can hike from the South Rim to the North, but again, no lodge – and the North Rim is really cold during winter, so camping there is pretty much out of question.
So, then the only option you are left with logistically speaking is the descend into the canyon on Day1 and plan to stay either at Phantom Ranch or camp at one of the campgrounds. On Day 2, start as close to the North Rim as possible, (I am thinking Cottonwood Campground would be a much better option.) climb up the North Rim trailhead and climb back down to Cottonwood. Then walk to Phantom Ranch. This should be done without carrying a heavy pack. Basically, no tent, no sleeping bag, no sleeping pad. Or any other non-essentials. Should carry enough water and snacks though. Also carry half the sack lunch. On Day 3, after tired legs have been rested enough, start for the South Rim from the River/Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground. Hopefully make it before sun down, then drive out. (As of now I am considering either Zion or back to Phoenix.)
(A) Phantom Ranch Rates and Reservation:
(B) The Distances:
Bright Angel campground is 9.5 miles from the South Rim through the Bright Angel trail.
Phantom Ranch is 9.9 miles from the South Rim through the Bright Angel trail.
South Kaibab trail cuts the distance, but there will be no water. I think I can carry enough water to refill at Phantom Ranch, so on the way down this is not an issue. Even on the way up, I can carry enough water from Phantom Ranch. I might hike down South Kaibab trail if there is no snow on Day 1, to cut distance and to have done all trails.
The North-Kaibab trailhead to Cottonwood campground is 6.8 miles, so if I stayed at Cottonwood campground on Day1, I can shave some distance off the North Rim hike. But that would also mean camping away from Phantom Ranch, and Cottonwood Campground might not have water in November. Decisions decisions! Bright Angel campground to Cottonwood campground is about 7.2 miles one way with about 1600 ft elevation gain, which cannot be discounted. I think it might be a better idea to camp at Cottonwood campground on Day 1.
From some posts on TripAdvisor, it looks like Cottonwood campground
- Has compost toilets
- Has water faucets (which might not have water in Nov)
- Has no running water sinks.
(C) Tentative Itinerary:
Sat – start from Phoenix at 5am, reach grand canyon by around 8:30am. Get the required permits – check with the park staff on weather …etc, and start down on the hike. Reach Phantom Ranch, collect the sack lunch, and head on to Cottonwood campground. Pitch tent and sleep.
16.7 miles of hike. But hardly any elevation gain till Phantom Ranch. Then some minor elevation to Cottonwood campground – 1600 ft elevation gain. I will be carrying a pack. As long as pack weight is manageable, this should be doable. Some 4000-5000ft descent.
Sun – wake up real early – more like 4am, start hike by 5am regardless of how cold it is outside. (get those fancy warmers if necessary.) Leave the pack (or at least the tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad) in the campground. (Might need to see if it can be stored in the area.) If carrying food …etc, leave tent where it is. Finish hike by 6pm, and collect diner from Phantom Ranch. Either stay at Phantom Ranch, or stay at Bright Angel campground.
This will be a 20.8 mile hike. 6.8 * 2 from Cottonwood campground to North Kaibab trailhead and back. And 7.2 miles from Cottonwood to Bright Angel campground. 4161 ft elevation. This is a tough hike! Cold weather will be good to have on my side. At an average of 2mph, this will take 10 hours. (not accounting for elevation gain and loss.) 14 hours seems more realistic. If I start at 5am, I can expect to finish by 7pm. This assumes no snow on the trail. If snow, no hike. :)
Mon – wake up early-ish, go have early breakfast, and head out of the Bright Angel trail. Expect to take 6-8 hours. If leaving by 8am, will reach around 4pm. Drive out to either Zion or back to Phoenix. 10 miles to South Rim. 4314 ft elevation with a pack. Yikes, this will be challenging as well, considering this will be a climb with a heavy pack.
(D) Physical Conditioning:
I have done some 15 + 12 mile hikes with daypack and backpacks respectively just the last two weekends, and I generally am comfortable cycling decently long distances and running distances (I have run a few half marathons to date – no full yet :) ). I think in terms of endurance, I am pretty good – even after a hard days hike or a half marathon, I still have enough energy to do something for a few hours. I am not great at pace – either running or climbing, but I think that should not matter too much for the hike.
I take planning seriously, and don’t think you should shy away from physical challenges, but at the same time, not take them too lightly. I think over the next 3 weeks leading up to the hike, I will be running, cycling and hiking regularly to get even more conditioned for the upcoming hike.
It’s very easy to be fooled by looking up 1 temperature number for the whole of Grand Canyon.
There are several stations you should be looking at really,
- South Rim
- Average High/Low in Nov in F – 52/27 (11/-3 C)
- Phantom Ranch
- Average High/Low in Nov in F – 68/46 (20/8 C)
- North Rim
- Average High/Low in Nov in F – 46/24 (8/-4 C)
Sat – breakfast can be had at a diner and Lunch can be taken in. (Buy a Sandwich in Phoenix or on the way.) Will stop at Phantom Ranch for some food and water refill before heading to Cottonwood campground. Will need to get an early start. Dinner – 1 sack lunch.
Sun – breakfast has to be carried. (Muesli + Bagel) Pack lunch can be grabbed the previous day from Phantom Ranch. (doubles as dinner the previous day and lunch on this day.) Leave pack at the food storage box or the pack poles. Make it back by Sundown to Cottonwood campground and then to Phantom Ranch. If I start the hike around 5am and brave the cold, I should be able to come back down by around 6:30pm in time for the dinner.
If I stay at Phantom Ranch on Sunday, I can have dinner there, and get a good night’s rest in not so cold conditions. Alternately I can also stay in bright angel campground.
Carry enough trail mix and Cliff Bars.
Might need to carry cook kit, although I’d want to skip this considering it is extra-weight. In case I carry cook kit, Lunch & Dinner – carry stuff. Noodles * 1 + Idahoan or knorr sides + Idahoan.
Mon – breakfast at Phantom Ranch. Start heading up after that – Lunch after reaching rim.
(G) What to pack:
- Sleeping Bag (rated to 35F or lower if camping on Rim.)
- Ok, so I had to switch to a colder bag because I think Cottonwood Campground is going to be colder. I will now use a 20F bag instead of the 35F bag.
- Sleeping Pad – Klymit V Insulated
- Sleeping Pad – Thermarest Z Lite Sol Insulated. (optional depending on weight)
- I am surely not carrying this.
- 1 person tent + Tarp
- Emergency Bivy
- Rain Jacket and Rain pants
- Base Layer (2X pairs) – One lighter set for the hike, and one to sleep in.
- Hiking Shirt and Pants
- Fleece Jacket + Gloves + Head Scarf.
- Crampons (just in case it snows and ices)
- Hiking poles
- Hiking Boots and 3 pairs of hiking socks. Extra Shoe laces.
- Steripen and Sawyer Filter for water filtration
- First Aid Kit + Lip Balm + Hand Sanitizer + Sunscreen.
- TP + Plenty of Ziplock bags and Paper Towels. (A Trowel might not be required considering the campgrounds have at least compost pits)
- Torch and Headlamp
- 1 x Knife
- 2 X Polar Bottles + Electrolyte
- 1 X 3L bladder.
- Hat + Sunscreen
- Camera ?
Need to think if I should carry a day pack, or just use the Backpack with all of the load removed for the day hike to the North Rim. I also need to try and keep pack weight to 25-29 pounds. Don’t pack additional stuff beyond that. This includes 10 pounds of water weight, and I guess about 3 pounds of food weight. That allows for only 12 pounds of other stuff including the pack.
I found this page which is wonderfully written and quite nicely composed with well shot pictures as well. I doubt if I will ever have the patience to write something so nice, so I’ll just include a link to it instead :)
I’m sure no one cares if this is out of the reverse chronology ;)